It’s hearing real life raw personal stories that can create change in someone’s life; KindaProud Pocket Books of Hope and Transformation aim to create a positive domino effect, where more and more people like Serena can stand tall and speak out in order to give their Peers permission to do the same. Thank you for your bravery and inspiration Serena, we’re very proud to have you appear in Amy’s KindaProud book; # Emerging Proud through disordered eating, body image and low-self-esteem…
Stepping Out of the Shower into my New Life
I planned to start writing this like all good stories begin – from the start – however I feel the need to lay down bare the impact that my journey of starving and exercise addiction had on me in first instance.
On a sunny day in the late Summer of 2008 I desperately needed a shower as had just been for a 5 mile run in the midday heat, after spending 2 hours on my exercise bike, and having not eaten in 3 days. My last meal had been my standard hand full of Cheerios and quarter of a tin of tuna, and it was safe to say that my body was exhausted.
As I ran the shower I undressed in front of my full-length mirror, and as I did I felt that feeling of absolute disgust; to the extreme that I had to look away after a few minutes to stop me from bursting into tears.
I climbed into the floor-ceiling shower cubicle, and began to wash my hair, tepid water bouncing off my overheated skin. As I worked my way down, washing my neck, chest and stomach, my hands knocked into each protruding bone, and glided over muscles that ached from being unallowed to rest.
What happened next caused an absolute 360 degrees turn-around in my life.
As I woke with confusion and blurred vision, I realised that I was immersed in warm water and I could taste soap in my mouth. The air was close and moist, and I was struggling to breathe from the heavy steam that was laying on my chest.
With my body feeling weak, I managed to use my slender arms to prop myself up against the white tiled wall, so I was slumped over like a tired rag doll. I used one hand and foot to pull the glass door of the cubicle back and let out a sigh of relief while taking a huge breath of cool fresh air, reminding myself that I was lucky to be alive.
I had passed out, and nearly drowned in a few inches of water. The realisation of the stupidity of my actions which had caused this incident to happen, made me feel like I was ungrateful and undervaluing of my life and everything and one in it.
I had always been so sensible and in control, so since when did I become so irresponsible?
Rewinding a year, I was fortunate enough to be invited on a university trip to Delhi in India. With a keen interest in business operations and processes, this trip gave me the opportunity to see first-hand how India’s Financial Institutions operated and also explore the incredible and insightful culture that the country offered.
But, not only did the trip impact on me from an educational and cultural perspective, but it also had a detrimental impact on my health and wellbeing and turned my world completely upside down.
Before the trip, I had begun to enjoy visiting the gym a few times and week and enjoyed a varied and healthy diet. I was always busy – with uni work, seminars, lectures, 3 jobs and a house to run – so keeping my weight down at that time came quite naturally and with little effort, apart from some gym and swim sessions, which I used as my alone and thinking time, to get away from the chaos of life.
After the trip, my life was a different story. As well as bringing home memories of an impactful experience, myself and many of my class mates also brought home ‘Delhi Belly’ (which is a severe stomach bug that sticks around for a long time!)
Due to this I couldn’t keep any food or drink down for a good month after, and following the end of the severe sickness and diarrhoea, and the excruciating painful stomach cramps (which kept me up most nights, taking away the sleep I desperately craved to regain energy to keep up with my busy lifestyle) I was unable to eat a diet of anything other than dried toast, cereal, tuna and crackers, which soon became boring and difficult to swallow, let alone stomach!
So, I started to want to eat less and less, and my previous love and enjoyment of food was now non-existent. At first limiting my food intake and what I ate was a necessary to prevent the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’ from flaring up, however it soon slipped into becoming an obsession, and even on to being a challenge, where I would see how many days I could go without giving in to the hunger pains.
Within 6 months I could manage about 3 days without eating any food and only consuming water, and for this I praised myself when seeing the weight drop off, going from a large size 12 to small size 10 in this short time.
Even though this was the case, I had the urge that I needed to do more. So, at that point, instead of my usual 2 1-hour gym visits per week, this rapidly increased to 5-6 2-3 hour sessions, and 4-5 1 hour swim sessions per week – plus daily runs twice a day and lengthy rides on my exercise bike whenever I was at home.
To put it simply, many areas of my life were sacrificed for exercise. Time with my family and friends, meal times, housework and even some work days (where I could get away with it) would become replaced by some sort of physical exercise.
My brain was consumed with thoughts of food and exercise, and nothing else got a look in. My work suffered, my education suffered, my sleep suffered, and I was so exhausted that my concentration slipped and all I could focus on was the negative feelings I had about my body.
When I started on my journey with anorexia and exercise addiction I enjoyed losing weight, and I loved the way I felt in my new slimmer body. But over time every time I saw myself in a mirror all I could see was how large I looked, and I absolutely hated myself. And as I got skinnier the self-hate just grew and grew, to the point that I couldn’t even face looking at myself anymore, that I had to undress in the dark, or wear the baggiest clothes I owned so I didn’t have to look down and see my atrocious body.
Another 6 months had passed, and I was now in small size 8 clothes, and weighed just over 7 stone (which was a total loss of around 5 and a half stone since my India visit).
Fast forwarding again to stepping out of that shower cubicle, I emerged a new woman. Still shaking from shock and shivering from the cold bathroom air, I stood staring at myself in the mirror and just sobbed, for hours.
My world stopped at that moment. Time stood still. My unrealistic view on my body lifted. And I just saw a scrawny, pale, skeleton staring back at me. My face was drawn, and my eyes we sunken, red, blood shot, with dark circles, as tears rolled and rolled continuously down my cheeks.
People say that when you come close to death you experience feelings of gratitude and thanks for your life, and I certainly did. These feelings were enough to pull me out of the pit of my illness and, once I admitted it to my family, they supported me to gradually eat healthily and exercise safely to become stronger and of more stable state of mind.
When I look back, the struggle to get better was harder than the challenge of starving, and the intenseness of excessive exercise. Therefore, when people criticise someone for having an eating disorder and just say ‘eat more’ this is certainly easier said than done. Eating disorders are both mental and physical illnesses that take work, support and time to heal.
And now I end the story, in 2018. Ten years on I am a size 14-16, after having 2 incredible children. I eat well and healthily, and enjoy playing with the children and walking my dog, in between rushing about in my (still) busy lifestyle.
Even though I am larger than I have been before, I am proud of my body – all the rolls, scars, stretch marks, cellulite, spots and redness make up me and stand for the huge challenges I have faced in my 30 years of life.
Pregnancy, child birth, family celebrations, romantic meals, exciting holidays and fun days out have all shaped who I am today, and my eating disorder and exercise addiction also adds to that, so I am not ashamed of it at all…
…I am proud of overcoming it and becoming a stronger person because of it.
Serena Fordham – Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur and Business Owner of Glow Virtual Assistants, For HER, Her Business Brew and Norfolk Mums.
We hope that Serena’s transformation story will give HOPE to those who may be struggling ❤
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